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pencilsIn reading the news blogs this morning, I ran across a comment about an Englishman who stands behind the belief that providing good education is more important than welfare in combatting poverty.

No link was provided to the man’s story, however, in short, his father’s business went bankrupt and the mother — a dentist — kept the household afloat whilst Dad was sorting out his debts.

He said that this concentrated the mind beautifully. He and his siblings linked his mother’s ability to support the family thanks to her education which qualified her for a profession. As a result, they took their school lessons seriously so that they would be able to support themselves as adults. The man is now an electrical engineer.

I do not know if this man might have spoken briefly at this week’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, however, what he says goes against the Labour Party philosophy that puts generous welfare ahead of education. Labour maintain that only when we resolve the issue of poverty will children become better educated.

I suspect the answer is a mix of the two. However, what is striking about the above story is how the children decided amongst themselves that education was the answer to their family’s financial problems. They studied more — and succeeded.

Keeping track of three countries’ politics — Britain’s, France’s and the United States’ — leads me to conclude that we have the politicians we deserve.

The UK

Britons are dissatisfied with the fallout after last week’s Scottish independence referendum. Scots are now unsure whether they will get devo-max. Elsewhere in the UK, many people of all political persuasions say some form of the Coalition’s pledged devolution or federal government must be established for England. But we wonder whether our notional leaders are being economical with the truth once again?

Our Labour Party’s annual conference is taking place this week in Manchester. Former Labour Party and union official Dan Hodges (who is also Glenda Jackson’s son) asks whether Ed Miliband is ‘really fit to lead our nation?’ He explains why not (emphases mine):

Miliband’s conference speeches have tended to be a reflection of his broader leadership: tactical successes, but strategic failures. On each occasion he has arrived at his party’s annual gathering under pressure. And he has departed on a high, sometimes even managing to set the political agenda for a month or two. But then the conference sugar-high has worn off, and the agenda has moved on. The big strategic questions – on leadership, the economy, Labour’s political direction – are left unanswered.

Fellow Briton and Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley says we need better political leaders:

Dare I say it, but I suspect that policy is being made up on the hoof! And that’s a particularly troubling prospect when we’re talking about the constitution of the country – the thing that frames decision-making and defines the nation state. Put it this way, do you really, really think that our current political leaders are the calibre of men capable of reframing the way our democracy works? Does Ed Miliband, with his little constitutional convention, strike you as the Benjamin Franklin of his era? Or David Cameron as its Robert Peel, bringing fresh powers to the shivering masses? Nick Clegg at least seems aware of his total irrelevance. The man who failed to pass even the most lukewarm variety of proportional representation knows that he ain’t no Lloyd George.

He concludes:

If we had strong leadership capable of building consensus and delivering results, do you think we’d be having what promises to be a long, boring, confused conversation about constitutional reform? If parts of Glasgow weren’t so depressed and blighted by poverty and socialist incompetence, do you think they’d have voted to leave the UK? If immigration was under control and the EU slimmed-down, do you think Ukip would exist? Oh for a politician who simply says what he/she wants to do and delivers it. The future of our great Union would rarely be called into question again.

It would be hard to disagree with either his or Hodges’s perspectives.

When was the last time we had a statesman? Like them or not, it was during the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Today’s politicians aren’t even close to that. On a superficial level, you can see that just by looking at them. They look and act like middling executives or local government officials. And why is every government matter so complicated? Because they make it so. We elect people who are supposed to be the best in the country at what they do and all we get is disingenuous waffle.

Unfortunately, there is no one in the House of Commons truly fit to be a party leader or, sadly, even an MP. Not one of the 600-odd is impressive, world-stage material, even the handful I don’t mind listening to.

The US

I haven’t followed US politics in such great detail lately, but I was somewhat surprised to see former Republican Senator Bob Dole, age 91, appear on stage at a political rally in Kansas at the weekend.

During his time, Bob Dole was considered a middling politician by those outside of his native Kansas. Today, he looks statesmanline, even if he is now confined to a wheelchair. Many Americans today would agree, judging from the comments following the article I read.

How times have changed.

Once again, it’s hard to come up with a single senator or congressman who is impressive. The same goes for the past few presidents, which takes us back to Reagan.

And, just as in the UK, the same old people keep getting re-elected term after term. Why? Can’t the Democrats and Republicans find better candidates? It seems they’re all on the gravy train together in one massive, comfortable ‘combine’ (machine politics).


RMC’s talking point on Monday’s current affairs shows revolved around the fact that 8m people watched former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s television interview Sunday night on France2 where he announced his re-entry into politics.

The hosts asked their panellists and listeners whether Sarkozy had changed, whether he was still electable after his campaign financing scandal and so on. And if the UMP (his party) don’t choose him again, what other UMP parliamentarians would fit the bill? Oh my, was that an unanswerable question! No one in the UMP is impressive.

It’s gobsmacking that the French are coming full circle to seeing Sarkozy as being able to save the country once again. It was only in 2012 when they turned their backs on him in disgust for François Hollande (PS, Parti Socialiste) who now has the lowest popularity ratings of any French president in history. I saw that coming as soon as he was elected.

Last week, some in the PS mooted putting forward disgraced but still highly esteemed Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the picture as a possible presidential candidate in 2017. One of RMC’s hosts said, ‘It sounds weird, but, after all, he is one of the world’s best economists!’

How low must we sink as a people before we start putting our thinking caps on and getting some morally decent and plain-speaking politicians who present a clear, concise plan and follow through with it?

Where are our leaders? Where are our statesmen?

Maybe our societies are just too decadent and perhaps we are too apathetic to deserve better?

To judge from popular home pages (e.g. Yahoo), it seems all most of us care about are celebrities, reality television and sports. It’s getting harder and harder to find national news on some of these home pages.

I read one rationale for this shift which was that people just cannot be bothered with reading the news.

If so, we Westerners are in more trouble than we realise.

pencilsAt the weekend, I read two comprehensive schools guides concerning the UK.

It astounded me to see how much term fees were for both prep (infant/primary) and secondary independent (including some top-end ‘public’ schools such as Eton and Harrow).  Most were upwards of £5,000 per term. One sixth-form school (last two years of secondary school) charges £13,000 per term. With three terms per school year, parents are paying from £15,000 to £39,000 per annum.

And that’s not taking into account school trips abroad. I don’t mean a ferry trip to Ireland or France. These pupils and students go to Asia, Africa and the United States.

Then there are summer holidays, which, in order to meet with the rather recent British propensity for Jonesing (from the post-Second World War American envy of matching up to ‘the Joneses next door’), a man has to make an incredible amount of money and manage it wisely every year. More importantly, he must be able to keep his job, come what may — takeovers, reorganisations, redundancies and so forth.

I’ll talk more about schools in another post, because my jaw fell open in disbelief at several points when reading these guides. Thank goodness that I don’t have to worry; I just enjoy reading most objectively-written articles and books about school in general.

My point here — with apologies in advance to female readers — is that in my area, blessed enough to seriously consider the schools which these guides include, we have a number of middle-aged mothers who are not working outside the home yet they dislike their husbands.

Many of these men, executives or self-employed, are putting themselves through temporal hell in paying for their wives’ and children’s upkeep, school fees, the mortgage, dinners out, children’s birthday parties (very expensive and competitive here), holidays and so much more. One wonders how they can afford it all.

One mother I know — there are no doubt many more — has said that she doesn’t really enjoy her husband’s company. They barely meet up during the week. If he isn’t working late nights, he’s away on business, which entails flying overseas to distant continents for days at a time. Meanwhile, he has put no demands upon her and happily pays for their teenaged children to attend private schools.

Seriously, if he decided to leave — and I can name four offline husbands who have left their wives once their children become teenagers — she would be left in a huge financial abyss, despite whatever financial support he could arrange for her and the children. After all, he would have to get another mortgage for his own residence and be able to pay for all the expenses that home would require.

Even worse, suppose he died suddenly? The kiddos would have to go to state school like many others, and the widow would find it difficult to find a job paying enough to fill all the financial gaps.

It’s time that more well-heeled women were more grateful for the blessing of not having to earn their own keep yet get away with doing a minimum around the house, escape the ‘oppression’ of cooking a proper meal and expect to be taken out to dinner on Saturdays and Sundays — while their children are attending good private schools.

It’s time to be thankful for what we have, because things can always be a lot worse. Life isn’t fair; many have been dealt better hands (to borrow a card-playing expression) than others.

Finally, I would ask these women to consider what their husbands are thinking when alone on a plane for several hours. It could be they are wondering why their wives have not gone out to seek employment or at least be more productive at home.

By no means am I asking or telling women to become housewives or go and find gainful employment, but some of those who are at home with no demands from their husbands really should think their lives through a bit more and be grateful they have married such good, responsible, undemanding providers.

The UK’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is in deep trouble, even though the Scots voted to stay in the United Kingdom (55.3%-47.7%).

If you’ve just tuned in, you might wish to read my posts on the referendum and its winners and losers.

The Scottish referendum campaign was one of the nastiest in modern British history, particularly by the Yes camp. It showed just how much rancour some Scots have towards the English, who are actually financing their public spending. Furthermore, my aforementioned referendum post explains that our past two Labour Prime Ministers (Blair and Brown, 1997-2010) are themselves Scottish, our present PM is part Scottish — as are many of the ‘Westminster’ elite in the media.

Scots, look at yourselves in the mirror. The English are not to blame for your woes; we are sending you money (involuntarily) to help you to overcome them.

Even if the Scots did not vote for independence, they are in for a huge win with regard to maximum devolution, what Britons call devo-max.

That means the English will be picking up the tab indefinitely, ironically, thanks to our Conservative Prime Minister. His fellow Conservatives — Tories — are none too happy.

The Telegraph‘s political correspondent Matthew Holehouse explains:

The Prime Minister is facing mounting dissent among English backbenchers after promising that Scotland’s special funding arrangements will continue even when the country is given control over its own taxation and spending.

He goes on to explain that the Barnett Formula — originally only to have been in place for two years, but ongoing since the 1970s — will continue (emphases mine):

Under the Barnett formula, devised in the 1970s by Labour Treasury minister Lord Barnett, spending is allocated according to population size, rather than the amount each country actually needs.

Critics say this gives Scotland an unfair share of government spending and even Lord Barnett has called for it to be replaced.

According to research at Stirling University [Scotland], England loses around £4.5 billion of public spending every year because the money is handed to Scotland instead.

Fortunately, a bloc of Tory MPs (Conservative Members of Parliament) are ready to oppose Cameron’s plans. Whether they will succeed is another question. We can but hope.

If Cameron presses on with the status quo with regard to Scotland:

One female Tory MP said …

There will be a bloodbath. Last night … I was listening to Cameron saying we are going to be providing all these additional benefits to Scotland, when we are struggling in so many areas of the UK …”

We already know that Cameron, like the rest of our elite, has no love for the English, even though he was born and raised here:

I’ll take on the sour Little Englanders, I’ll fight them all the way.

However, four years ago he was — and, unfortunately, still is — the least worst of a bad lot.

Now, however, events might be catching up with him. The Telegraph‘s Holehouse reports:

Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee and one of the Prime Minister’s most vocal backbench critics, today said the plans to grant Scotland fiscal autonomy would mean no Scottish MP could become Chancellor.

“We could never have a Scottish UK chancellor setting English taxes in England at the annual budget but not in his or her own constituency. So Parliament will have to consider how to establish an English executive, with an English first minister and finance minister,” he said in a letter to The Times.

That moment cannot come too soon. When the Welsh and Northern Irish have their own national Assemblies and the Scots their own Parliament, does Cameron — self-styled ‘Heir to Blair’ — seriously think that he can win re-election in 2015 by saying that England should be devolved into regions, end of? And still pay for the Scots? And still have Scottish MPs voting on English laws?

Watching the returns on STV (broadcast in England on ITV), I was appalled that Scottish politicians were so glib in saying that England would be divided into regions and achieve ‘reform’ in that way. What reform would that be when Scotland has its own Parliament and Wales and Northern Ireland have their own Assemblies? Nothing but table crumbs for the English, with the largest population of the United Kingdom. It’s also pretty amazing that a few million people have so much influence on the fate of 60m south of the border.

Hmm. This one will run and run until May 2015, when our next general election takes place.

The summer of 2014 has produced a surfeit of runner beans in southern England.

Not surprisingly, many shy away from this delicious vegetable because of its stringiness. Nearly every oversized runner bean has at least one dreaded, fibrous string.

Hoping she doesn’t mind, I have borrowed Shaheen’s marvellous picture of runner beans for those who do not know what they look like. Her entry on A Seasonable Veg Table (Allotment2Kitchen) explains that, although this is one of Britain’s most prolific vegetables, the runner bean is of South American origin.

To prepare runner beans for cooking, I do the following, which yields favourable comments:

1/ Top and tail the beans. With ordinary green beans, I often keep the curly bit on the end, but the runner bean’s is too fibrous to cook, so I discard it.

2/ As I top and tail, I run my paring knife down the length of the bean on both sides to remove any fibrous strings.

3/ I cut the beans on the bias (diagonally) in bite-sized pieces.

To cook runner beans, this is what I do:

1/ Sauté 50 – 60g (approx. 2 oz) of chopped pancetta or bacon in a shallow pan.

2/ When the pancetta/bacon bits are cooked, add 454g (1 lb) sliced runner beans to the pan and add just enough stock (or water) to cover. Put a lid on the pan and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. They should be al dente when done.

3/ Drain the cooking liquid, taking care to retain the pancetta/bacon pieces.

4/ Add a tablespoon or two of butter along with a dash or two of garlic salt or one clove of crushed garlic. Stir well until the bacon and garlic butter are evenly incorporated, then serve.

Making vegetables more interesting keeps both children and adults happy at table.

Keeping carbs to a minimum and fat relatively high with the ketogenic diet increases satiety, calms the mind and helps the body decrease fat stores. These buttery runner beans are deeply satisfying for health and taste buds.

I’ll have another runner bean recipe soon. It, too, is perfect for those on a low carb high fat eating plan.

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Pied Piper — children’s evacuation in England — which began in 1939, shortly before war was declared, and ended in 1944.

Members of the Evacuees Reunion Association have been giving interviews about their own experiences to educate a new generation who might not know much about this aspect of the Second World War in England.

My first post looked at the Association’s president’s experience, that of James Roffey. Yesterday’s was about Jack Hilton‘s.

Today’s discusses the war years of television presenter Michael Aspel, patron of the Association.

At the age of seven, he was sent with his sister Pat, nine, and little brother Alan, four, from Battersea in London to Chard, Somerset. They spent four-and-a-half years there.

It’s hard to believe that something like this could happen today, and let’s hope it never does in future. However, Great Britain was a different place then, with statesmen instead of career politicians. As one man who commented on Aspel’s story says (emphases mine):

I to[o] was an evacuee aged eight and even at that age we realised that a lot of people were dying to keep this country free[;] today our politicans are dying to give the country away.

Aspel recalls a happy time. His foster parents left him a lot of leeway, so he was able to wander around exploring Chard and surrounds. He made friends with the GIs who were billeted nearby; they left him a box of medals and buttons before they left for the Normandy landings.

He also enjoyed school, particularly his teacher, Miss Audrey Guppy. They reunited in the 1960s once he began appearing on national television. She wrote him a letter saying that she’d seen one of his shows. Some years later, they discovered that they lived five minutes apart. From then on, Aspel paid his former teacher weekly visits until her death at age 99.

In December 2008, Aspel and other evacuees were part of the documentary Evacuees Reunited (ITV1). Having read their stories this week, I’m sorry I never watched the programme. Perhaps it is online.

Just before the programme aired, Aspel gave an interview to the Daily Mail in which he described his war years away from home in more detail.

He says that, prior to evacuation — a concept the children didn’t understand — he and his fellow pupils practised walking down the street wearing gas masks. He said the drills were ‘fun, exciting’.

Then, one day, he and his siblings were each buttoned up in their coats and given suitcases.

My mother didn’t come. There was no big goodbye, just a lot of children being led to the station, Pied Piper style, and put onto a train. It was stuffy. Mostly I just remember taking Alan to the loo because he had messed his trousers.

At Chard, the children were herded into a community centre. Aspel has memories similar to that of James Roffey in West Sussex:

People came along and just picked what children they wanted. Most wanted boys, to work in the fields. No one actually came for me. I don’t know why.

He says that nearly every evacuee remembers being the last child chosen by a foster family — a natural misconception probably because it was such a fraught time that every boy and girl felt apprehensive and alone. It wasn’t unusual for siblings to be split up.

His brother and sister went to one family’s home and young Michael to another. Rose and Cyril Grabham agreed to take him in, although they were not at home when he arrived. Aspel recalls sitting in their front room for what seemed a very long time. It was not until later that he realised Mrs Grabham — whom he calls Auntie Rose — was out in the back garden.

The Grabhams’ 19-year old son was fighting in the war. Aspel remembers feeling unsettled the first night he stayed with them. Auntie Rose gave him her son’s toy gun, which helped, and kissed him once — on the forehead the next morning. After the war, he visited them several times and had happy reunions.

Auntie Rose was a good cook. She could skin her own rabbits and make delicious stews.

As for relationships with other children, Aspel recalls that the ‘vaccies’ — as they were called by their peers — often had problems. Some were bullied. Aspel, on the other hand, was one to fight back and had his fair share of scrapes.

He summed up the evacuation experience this way:

‘The thing is, it underlined how much I had been one of the lucky ones,’ he says. ‘Some evacuees had the most dreadful experiences – abused, uncared for, treated in ways that seem horrific today.

‘… much of it was quite wonderful – but it was still a huge deal. Any child going through that today would be offered counselling, at the very least

‘Today, of course, it would be considered barbaric; but we just accepted it, as did our parents in sending us away. They thought they were doing the right thing.’

Back at home in Battersea, he and his father had a highly uneasy relationship for many years. Aspel says that they occasionally threw punches at each other. However, Aspel senior was a good grandfather, at which point father and son made a truce.

Aspel believes that his father was traumatised from his service during the Second World War. Nothing was quite the same afterward and his mother also found the ensuing years highly stressful.

Aspel’s career has been a great one, his name a household word. Today, he is best known for having hosted This Is Your Life and Antiques Roadshow. However, his track record in marriage has been less successful, although he told the Mail that he hesitates to blame that on his post-war home life.

Whatever the case, I am glad that I read his and the other stories from members of the Evacuees Reunion Association. May we never forget what children in wartime went through 70 – 75 years ago.

Yesterday’s post introduced Operation Pied Piper — children’s evacuation — part of the history of the Second World War with which many people outside of Britain and the Commonwealth nations are unfamiliar.

A few members of the Evacuees Reunion Association have recently given interviews in which they describe their experiences. Yesterday’s post related that of James Roffey, founder of the Association.

It is difficult to know what to think of children’s evacuation. I have my own opinion, however, I wasn’t alive at the time so have no idea what it was really like living in England during the war.

However, I did know one Londoner, a widow, whose son was evacuated to a farm in the Home Counties. She went to collect him after several weeks as she couldn’t bear to be parted from him. As far as dying in a bombing raid, one supposes she thought they would take their chances. At night, in the air raid shelter of their nearest Tube station, at least they were together.

Today’s entry is about another Evacuees Reunion Association member Jack Hilton, aged 84, who still lives in his parents’ house in Penge East, South London. Mr Hilton lost his mother during the war, whilst he was miles away in South Yorkshire:

“She said ‘Your dad’s in France with the invasion and he could get killed’,” the 84-year-old told

“’Mike [Jack’s younger brother] and I are here with the doodlebugs and we could get killed.’

“’I want one member of the family to survive.’ That is the last thing she ever said to me. I never saw her again.”

Hilton was part of the last tranche of evacuees, leaving in 1944 at the age of 13. He recalls missing his younger brother, who was three years old at the time. Neither knew at the time that their mother was slowly dying.

Young Jack ended up in Barnsley with Mr and Mrs Wines and their four-year old daughter Olwen. He lived with them for three months.

Fortunately, they accepted Jack as a member of the family. He kept in touch with them for many years and went to visit them in 1974.

In the video, he describes the first dinner Mrs Wines prepared for him: pickles, potatoes and corned beef. He says it’s still one of his favourite meals.

He also tells how happy he was at being able to sleep in a bed at the Wines’s house. Back in Penge East, he slept during the war curled up in a sheltered part of the house where the coal was stored.

Hilton went on to pick up his life after the war and today has seven grandchildren.


One aspect of the Second World War which wasn’t covered in history class in the United States many years ago was the evacuation of English children to safer areas — and Commonwealth countries.

If I’d realised that at the time, I would have better understood the background to Lord of the Flies. I don’t recall understanding the context and doubt the teacher explained it to us in class. However, that was many years ago, and perhaps I didn’t read the first few pages that well.

It was only when I moved here that I learned about this mass evacuation, officially called Operation Pied Piper. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been for the hundreds of thousands of children who were sent to foster families around the country and overseas. Germany and Japan, incidentally, had similar programmes for their children during the war.

The Evacuees Reunion Association brings together those who underwent this experience and furthers education for today’s generation on this period in history. The Association has upwards of 1,500 members around the world.

As with everything else in life, some children were better treated than others. It is instructive to read the memories that these people had in their time away from home.

The founder of the Evacuees Reunion Association, James Roffey, recently described his evacuation with his brother and sister from Camberwell, in South London. The Roffey children left via sister Jean’s (Joan’s?) school, ending up in Pulborough, West Sussex. (The article really could have been better edited, especially considering its content. We don’t know how old Mr Roffey was at the time nor the name of his sister.)

They were among the first tranche to leave London. It was during school holidays in 1939, just before war was declared:

I remember my mother saying “If you are evacuated you will go with Joan and she will look after you”. I didn’t have any say in the matter.

We all had little suitcases and the basic necessities – clean shirt, pyjamas, toothbrush and toothpaste – the poorer children had their belongings in a pillow case. For several days we went to school ready to be evacuated but it didn’t happen until one Friday we went to school and everything was different.

For security reasons, children and parents did not know the final destination. Parents were not allowed to walk with their children in some cases, but on the other side of the road:

The mothers were at the iron school gate but the police made sure they didn’t get anywhere near us.

We were marched down to Queens Road railway station and the parents had to walk along the other side of the road. There was absolute chaos because some of the mothers just couldn’t go through with it.

Although young James Roffey — under eight years of age — found the trip rather ‘exciting’, not all the children shared his enthusiasm (emphases mine):

The journey lasted about four hours so some children were travel sick, some wet themselves. It was that more than anything that lead to rumours that all evacuees were dirty, weren’t housetrained and came from the slums.

When we arrived there was just one toilet at the station for about 300 children so they rigged up makeshift toilets with tarpaulin and buckets.

There was a long wait for busses, some older boys ran away so they put us in the pens of the cattle market.

A district nurse deloused the children. Although her manner was harsh, he later got to know her and said she was ‘actually a lovely person’.

Before boarding the busses to their final destinations, the children had an opportunity to avail themselves of cakes and sweets, however, Roffey remembers:

… none of it was touched because anxiety had set in. We were all thinking: “Where am I? What’s happening to me? I want my mum!”

Farmers chose older boys to work on farms. The billeting officers assigned the rest of the children homes. If they knocked on your door, you were obliged to take the children in:

They couldn’t find anyone to take two boys and a girl so the billeting officer came over and grabbed John and literally forced him away from Jean – she was distraught. I wasn’t, I was glad to see the back of him.

We were driven to a semi-derelict cottage where the woman didn’t want to take us but the billeting officer put his foot in the door, pushed J[ea]n and I in and drove off.

The government compensated the host families for taking in evacuees, similar to the present foster family system.

A fortnight later, Jean and James went to different homes. James ended up with a couple who owned a sweet shop. Lucky boy! He stayed with them and their 14-year old daughter for four years.

Roffey says that homesickness and sadness were strictly out of bounds:

All evacuees experienced homesickness but it wasn’t recognised in those days – you weren’t allowed to go around looking miserable. You were told: “Pull yourself together – don’t you know there’s a war going on?”

Letters home were censored by the foster parents or the teachers. If we wrote that we were unhappy they would tell us “You don’t want to upset your mother”, and if they didn’t like what we’d written they’d rip the letters up.

He said that whatever anxiety you felt at the time had to be internalised:

You had to hide it. We called it ‘it’ – it is still with us to this day, it is something you never really get over.

Roffey has written a book, ‘Send Them To Safety’, available through the Evacuees Reunion Association.

The comments beneath the article with Roffey’s story contain more insights regarding evacuation. Several describe a lifelong friendship with their wartime foster parents. Others say they stayed with relatives. Sadly, as one might expect, some children lost their parents during the war and had to be adopted.

Tomorrow’s post has another evacuee’s story.

Comments are welcome, particularly from readers who were children during the war.

My preceding post summarised the influence that Huguenots had on English society and culture.

Today’s looks at a generational example of how the descendants of Huguenots continued the same tradition. Sir Samuel Romilly was one such example.

Although children and grandchildren of Huguenots absorbed the value of education and hard work, some found that their faith began to wane. This is probably not surprising, given that, by this time, the Age of Enlightenment was in full flow and secularism became more popular.

In his article ‘England’s “First Refugees”‘, historian Dr Robin Gwynn cites the story of Samuel Romilly for whom the eponymous street in London’s Soho is named. Romilly was born in nearby Frith Street.

Before we come to Gwynn’s account of Romilly’s thoughts about his heritage, Wikipedia describes his origins:

Romilly was … the second son of Peter Romilly, a watchmaker and jeweller. His grandfather had emigrated from Montpellier after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and had married Margaret Garnault, a Huguenot refugee like himself, but of a far wealthier family. Samuel served for a time in his father’s shop; he was well-educated, becoming a good classical scholar and particularly conversant with French literature. A legacy of £2000 from one of his mother’s relations led to his being articled to a solicitor and clerk in chancery with the idea of qualifying himself to purchase the office of one of the six clerks in chancery.

Romilly went on to have a radical influence on English law:

In 1808, he managed to repeal the Elizabethan statute which made it a capital offence to steal from the person … in 1812 he had repealed a statute of Elizabeth I making it a capital offence for a soldier or a mariner to beg without a pass from a magistrate or his commanding officer. In 1813 he failed to pass a law which would have abolished corruption of blood [prohibiting inheritance from a criminal] for all crimes, but in the following year he tried again and succeeded (except for treason and murder). Also in 1814 he succeeded in abolishing hanging, drawing and quartering.

In addition to the learned circles in which he mixed locally, Romilly also had many influential friends in France with whom he exchanged ideas. These helped to affect his view of the law. His reputation was such that he became highly popular in political circles and was knighted. He served as Solicitor General and as a Whig MP for three different constituencies on the Sussex coast.

He also helped William Wilberforce and other fellow MPs to abolish slavery in 1807:

The trade was abolished by a resounding 283 to 16. According to Thomas Clarkson, it was the largest majority recorded on any issue where the House divided. Romilly felt it to be “the most glorious event, and the happiest for mankind, that has ever taken place since human affairs have been recorded.”

Now to Gwynn’s information about Romilly and his ancestors:

His great-grandfather, a landowner at Montpellier, had remained in the south of France after the Revocation, but continued to worship in Protestant ways within the security of his own home, and brought up his children as Protestants. It was Samuel’s grandfather, Etienne, who became a refugee in 1701, at the age of seventeen. He went to Geneva for the specific purpose of receiving Communion, and there decided not to return home but to go instead to London. Only then did he inform his family of his decision, but his father accepted the situation and sent money to him from France which helped him establish himself as a wax-bleacher in Hoxton, It is typical of first-generation refugees to marry others of their own kind, and Etienne married Judith de Monsallier, the daughter of another Huguenot immigrant.

Samuel Romilly’s father, Peter, was apprenticed to a Frenchman in the City, a jeweller named Lafosse. In due course Peter[,] too[,] married the daughter of a refugee, Margaret Gamault, so Samuel was brought up in surroundings which retained strong Huguenot influences.

Samuel Romilly later recalled attending church twice on Sundays. His father Peter alternated these visits between the Anglican parish church and the French church of which he was a member. Peter was also intent on practising charity, which Samuel noted held more importance for his father than religious practice.

Samuel had poor impressions of the French church, parts of which sound as if they could have been written yesterday:

Most of the descendants of the refugees were born and bred in England, and desired nothing less than to preserve the memory of their origin; and their chapels were therefore ill-attended. A large uncouth room, the avenues to which were narrow courts and dirty alleys, and which, when you entered it, presented to the view only irregular unpainted pews and dusty plastered walls; a congregation consisting principally of some strange-looking old women scattered here and there, one or two in a pew, and a clergyman reading the service and preaching in a monotonous tone of voice, and in a language not familiar to me, was not likely either to impress my mind with much religious awe, or to attract my attention to the doctrines which were delivered.

His impressions of attending French school were no better.

With regard to organised religion, he seems to have been ambivalent. On the one hand, he continued to attend the aforementioned French church as an adult and was delighted when John Roget became pastor there. He and Roget became close friends, to the extent that Samuel’s sister Catherine married the minister.

However, John appears to have died at a young age. His and Catherine’s son, Peter Mark Roget (1779 – 1869), remained close to his uncle Samuel. Peter Roget, incidentally, was a physician, then after retirement, compiled the first Roget’s Thesaurus. Such detailed list-making helped him to combat depression. His son John Lewis Roget and grandson Samuel Romilly Roget expanded his work. You can find out more about Peter Mark Roget here; he also invented the slide rule. He was also the secretary for the Royal Society for 21 years and invented a pocket chessboard.

With the loss of his clergyman brother-in-law John, it is possible that Samuel Romilly drifted further away from the faith. John might have had some part to play as well. It was he who introduced Samuel to Rousseau’s work. That said, it appears that Samuel continued to attend church, at least occasionally. As an MP, he recorded in his diary (Memoirs of the Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, Volume 2, p. 301):

Oct. 25. After Church, and after I had sat in court, I went to Bishop Auckland, and passed the rest of the day there. 

Although he admired the concept of the French Revolution, he was highly critical of its atheistic nature. Spartacus Educational explains:

In 1790 he published a pamphlet Thoughts on the probable influence of the French Revolution on Great Britain. Rose Melikan, has argued: ” … His own indoctrination in Anglicanism and French Calvinism had not inspired a very profound dedication to organized religion. He felt that the French anti-clericalism, however, was both unreasonable and likely to presage further persecution.” Romilly later admitted that the French Revolution produced “among the higher orders… a horror of every kind of innovation”.

Romilly continued his father’s charitable efforts by serving as a director of the French Protestant Hospital in London.

It is unfortunate that, upon hearing of the death of his beloved wife on the Isle of Wight, he secluded himself in a room in his house in Russell Square, London, and slit his throat. His aforementioned nephew Peter Roget — still traumatised by his father’s and wife’s premature deaths — attended to his uncle in his final moments on October 29, 1818. Although Wikipedia states Romilly is buried in a family vault in Radnorshire, Wales, Find A Grave’s biography by Iain MacFarliane states that he is buried in his wife Anne’s hometown of Knill, Herefordshire, in St Michael’s and All Angels churchyard.

There are more examples of Huguenots and their descendants who similarly changed society and culture in dramatic ways. I’ll take a closer look at their stories in August 2015, God willing.

For now, here is Dr Gwynn’s summary of this particular generation in England:

by and large it was the members of his – the third – generation of refugees who were the last to show any profound awareness of the Huguenot character of their families. In 1787 those Protestants who remained in France finally won toleration, and shortly afterwards special rights were offered to Huguenot descendants who might wish to return there. Very few of those who had crossed the Channel can have been tempted, for assimilation was complete. What had been French had become British.

Yesterday’s post covered the Huguenot influence on the Channel Islands, Jersey in particular. It also looked at General — or Marshal — Vauban’s statistics on the wealth, expertise and military training the Huguenots were taking from France.

Religious persecution can have a profound effect on the nation of origin — in this case, France — and the new host nation for refugees, the second most popular of which was England.

Dr Robin Gwynn — author, historian and retired professor — deplores our late 20th century loss of history, particularly that of the Huguenots. In 1985, he told the Christian Science Monitor of his astonishment that a 1978 volume covering the period between 1658 and 1714 has no mention of the French Protestants who fled to Britain, principally England.

Gwynn was referring to Crown and Court by J R Jones. Jones, by way of reply to the Monitor, said he thought the Huguenots were little more than a footnote.  Jones is not alone. A contemporary of his, Professor John Kenyon of St Andrew’s University in Scotland, is equally dismissive of this large wave of immigrants — approximately 50,000 people in a country with a population of a little over 5 million during Louis XIV’s reign. Afterward, the Huguenots continued to migrate to England. By the mid-18th century, 500,000 had arrived.

Gwynn says that the Huguenots’ influence on English society should not be forgotten:

They knew that in the 19th century. If you read [the English historian] Macaulay, he was well aware of the Huguenot input. In 1900, you couldn’t possibly have written a history of Stuart England without mentioning the Huguenots. But in the 1980s you can. 

The Monitor explains:

In England, Huguenots were spread across a range of classes, although they were mainly urban in origin. Their mark was left on painting, sculpture, acting, teaching, and medicine.

Moreover, the Huguenots seem to have forced on England a greater degree of religious tolerance …

Not to mention their fine goods manufacture: silk weaving, lace trims, furniture, jewellery, silversmithing and watchmaking.

The Monitor then cites two important details which prove that Vauban was right about the Huguenots’ departure weakening France militarily and economically:

Huguenot presence in the English Army became a significant factor in the eventual defeat of Louis XIV.

In finance, too, the Huguenots were prominent: They provided 10 percent of the initial capital for the Bank of England, and six of the original governors, including the chairman, were Huguenots.

Gwynn developed his interest in the French Protestants because his mother was the first official researcher for the Huguenot Society of London. She also wrote the standard book on the history of the Huguenots in Ireland.

Incidentally, Gwynn spoke at the 1985 tercentenary commemorations of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in Jersey, the subject of my previous post.

I have found his summaries of his research and his books to be not only informative but fascinating to read. The following information comes from his article for History Today called ‘England’s “First Refugees”‘. (The transcribed article has several glaring punctuation and spelling errors.)

As I wrote yesterday of countries which welcomed the Huguenots:

These nations, among others, were known to the French as pays du Refuge. In fact, the word refugié (refugee) is hardly a new one. It came about with the escape of the Huguenots from France and was first coined in 1681 (see p. 4 of the PDF, a talk by historian Robin Gwynn).

Gwynn tells us this was often shortened to rés.

Popularity of England — and London

England proved a popular destination, second only to the Netherlands. The Huguenots’ faith would be well received with freedom of practice unhindered.

Most who fled to England were highly skilled craftsmen or learning the trades, as a number of poorer Huguenots were among them. Others were in the main professions — e.g. law, medicine. A few Protestant noblemen also made a new home for themselves. Whatever the status, literacy was good to strong as was assimilation into society.

The English — then as now — were fond of French merchandise, particularly at the upper end of the scale. Therefore, Huguenots gravitated to London, found a French congregation, met its members and secured work through it. Whilst not all made a fortune, they were at least nearly guaranteed to make a living and support a family. A number of Huguenot charities were in existence which helped, too.

Huguenots coming from French seaports often preferred to settle along or near the southern and southwest coast from Kent to Bristol.

Further north, they were fewer. The markets were not as favourable as London’s, although Chester and Edinburgh both had small Huguenot settlements.

Reaction of the English

Then — as now — there was a natural suspicion of the French, based on longstanding history dating back to the Norman Conquest. Those in lesser positions of work also feared that the new arrivals would take their jobs.

As Gwynn says:

The appearance of so many people fleeing government action abroad had no previous parallels in English history … Not until the nineteenth century can any other swell of refugees be said to compare remotely with the Huguenots.

However, nearly everyone — from whatever social class they came from — understood that the Huguenots were being mercilessly persecuted in France by a Catholic king. Public opinion soon changed to a more empathetic and welcoming one.

Rapid assimilation

The first sign of Huguenot assimilation was in their surnames. Depending on the clerk who was processing paperwork upon their arrival, it happened sooner rather than later:

‘Lacklead’ has a Scottish, ‘Bursicott’ a West Country air; they are what Englishmen made of de la Clide and de Boursaquotte when they first encountered those Huguenot names.

That said, as in South Africa, a number of Huguenot surnames survive today:

names like Bosanquet, Courtauld, Dollond, Gambier, Garrick, Minet, Portal, Tizard. A few, such as de Gruchy, Le Fanu, Lefevre, Lefroy or Ouvry, still immediately strike one as of foreign origin.

Some Hugenot families anglicised their family names themselves from:

Andrieu, Boulanger, Barbier, de la Croix, Forestier, Reynard, Le Cerf, Mareschal, Le Moine, de la Neuvemaison, de la Pierre, Blanc and Dubois


Andrews, Baker, Barber, Cross, Forrester, Fox, Hart, Marshall, Monk, Newhouse, Peters, White, Wood.

One man who did so was the famous actor David Garrick’s grandfather — also named David. Wikipedia tells us (emphases mine):

Garrick’s grandfather, David Garric, was in Bordeaux in 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was abolished, revoking the rights of Protestants in France. David Garric fled to London and his son, Peter, who was an infant at the time, was later smuggled out by a nurse when he was deemed old enough to make the journey. David Garric became a British subject upon his arrival in Britain and anglicised the name to Garrick.[2]

Gwynn says the Huguenots settled in to English society relatively quickly with the following result:

The number of Huguenots who sought refuge in England was so large, in relation to a national population of perhaps five and a half million at the end of the seventeenth century, that assimilation and intermarriage mean that most English readers of this journal will have some Huguenot blood in their veins.

Allegiance to England

The Huguenots maintained their good social and religious reputation in England. In addition, their contribution to commerce and intellectual life won them friends among the English.

The Huguenots also felt an allegiance to their new host country. As I mentioned above, they fought with the English to defeat Louis XIV. They also opposed Bonnie Prince Charlie:

[W]hen the Young Pretender appeared in 1745, the Huguenots were quick to come forward with loyal addresses promising men for service against him.

Their loyalty never waned, even through successive generations.

Tomorrow’s post examines the life of Samuel Romilly, a descendant of Huguenots. London’s eponymous street in Soho is named after him.

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